Television

'Max is an extremely successful channel' : Max Sr EVP and business head Sneha Rajani

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Multi Screen Media‘s hybrid channel Max has completed 11 years and today is a prime asset of the company.

While it telecasts the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL), in the movie space it is in close fight with Zee Cinema for the top spot.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com’s Gaurav Laghate, Max Sr EVP and business head Sneha Rajani talks about how Max has successfully run its movie and cricket businesses separately and profitably.

Excerpts:

Max has been both, praised and criticised, for changes in cricket programming. Your comments...

What we did with cricket was pioneering. We changed the way cricket was viewed and consumed in this country. Till then it was like a match being aired and a little bit of analysis thrown. What we wanted to do, and which is where we revolutionised cricket viewing, was that we wanted to increase the base.





Cricket was predominantly male viewing till we came into the market. We knew that in order to increase the base, it couldn‘t be just confined to the men. We had to make it all inclusive.





So we took some seriously bold steps like introducing a woman anchor way back in 2002 (Ruby Bhatia) and Extraa Innings.

In the 2003 World Cup, we had three women instead of one - and purists went ballistic. The ratings increased five times, women audience grew 200 per cent and Extraa Innings touched a 19 TVR.





Another milestone was duplicating the success of Extraa Innings with movies - Extra Shots. Mandira Bedi became the first movie jockey.

From 2008 we are having IPL. There has been no dull moment since then - we are made for each other.

What about movies?

Blockbuster movie acquisition is something Max has been associated with always. Out of the 10-12 big films every year, Max has easily over half of them. Be it Lagaan, Devdaas, Om Shanti Om or 3 Idiots - you will always see the best and biggest movies on Max.





3 Idiots is, perhaps, the biggest coup that Sony has pulled off. Look at the ratings of the first three airings.

With so much controversies and bad publicity going around IPL, will it have any adverse impact on your revenue targets?

I won‘t comment on numbers but any publicity is good publicity...it helps you look positively. And at the end of the day, the IPL is a league that the audience wants to watch. The thought and vision is so strong that the IPL will continue to be the biggest entertainment spectacle.

Max being a hybrid channel, the cost of investment is much higher compared to a pure play movie channel...

Yes, but we look at the two as completely separate businesses. And both are doing fairly well independently.





And yes, as for cricket, the rights have been acquired for 10 years. We are well aware of the costs. But as far as movie acquisition is concerned, we know the prices have gone up tremendously, which is why we have been extremely careful about how many movies we have picked up this year and at what price.

But you have acquired very few movies this year?

Let me put it this way... We have not acquired as many films as we normally do simply because we did not want to pay unrealistically high. Acquisition has to make business sense.

We have not acquired as many films as we normally do, simply because we did not want to pay unrealistically high. Acquisition has to make business sense

As Colors is buying movies aggressively for its upcoming movie channel, what will be your plan of action?

Not just Colors, Star has also picked up a lot of them. Colors is in a different life cycle; they are in a launch phase. We are nowhere in the launch phase, we have a very solid library. We have acquired enough number of premieres.

So what are the parameters that you look for while acquiring the movies?

We have a budget and a set of parameters. Our recent acquisitions are Robot, Crook, Raktacharitra, We Are Family and Hisss.

When you are airing movies, you do not have scope for creative programming. How is your channel different from the other movie channels?

The scope is very limited simply because we run movies back to back; there is very little space available for us to do anything else. But in the next quarter, we are trying to bring in at least a couple of innovations.





So far we have Extraa Shots - which has a different look to it every month. We shoot with TV stars; we have picture-in-picture type shots etc. It has been refreshed continuously over time.

But how will you differentiate between your channel, and say, Zee Cinema and Star Gold if everyone is playing the same movies?

You are talking about the syndication model. But there are very few movies that have been shared between the broadcasters like Jab We Met airing on 10 different channels.





I can say 99 per cent of our library is exclusive, and so is Zee‘s and Star‘s. There are very few - around 50 films that are shared in the market.

So you don‘t believe in the syndication model?

We as broadcasters are extremely and completely against the syndication model. If you talk to other broadcasters, I think they will also share the same views.





I think it is not right for the broadcasters and for the movie itself. I think producers also should not encourage this as it completely devalues the product.

But many channels have formed business models on syndication. Like Colors acquired first airing, Imagine TV got second airings...

The response to that is the pricing is wrong. It does not mean that you change the model and introduce a model that completely kills your product and the brand of the channel.





We had to acquire some movies on syndication as they were not available otherwise. But going forward, we have not acquired any film that is on syndication. It is outright acquisition model that we are following.

Which movies you had to take on syndication?

Om Shanti Om, Chandni Chowk to China, Bhootnath, Jab We Met and a few others. But after that, we haven‘t. Like 3 Idiots - which we acquired exclusively.

The window between theatrical release and TV premiere has shortened. But a movie channel gets the movie after it airs on the general entertainment channel. Is there a return on investment?

If not, why will Colors launch a movie channel? And let me tell you, I can‘t talk about the other movie channels, but Max is a very successful channel. Not just from the ratings point of few, but as a business it is extremely successful.




And as you rightly said, the big premiere happens on a general entertainment channel simply because the effective rates on a GEC are far higher than a movie channel. But there is a model there which works, and that‘s why everyone is doing it.




In other words, we recover what we invest.

But Zee Cinema is not investing heavily on acquisitions and rates higher than Max. So is it not a more effective business channel?

They do buy, maybe not as much as Star or Sony or Colors, but it is because their business model is different.

 

And talking about Sony, even before we launched Max, our brand promise was that we are known for our blockbusters. Our strategies

are different. I wouldn‘t say theirs is more effective or ours is.





And if you see the last five years, Max has been leading more than them. Obviously our strategy is also working.





Also don‘t forget that Zee Cinema has got a first mover advantage. It‘s a far older channel. People are used to it and in the Hindi heartland they have a huge following.

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